US Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is usually very effective and shrewd at what he does. Case in point: the recall election of California Governor Gray Davis in 2003. Most people think of that gubernatorial transition defined by the launch of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term in the job. Arnold wouldn’t have had that job if it weren’t for Darrell Issa. Issa led the maneuver and funded $1.6 million into the recall campaign, which tossed out Davis. Issa wanted the job, but action movie megastar Schwarzenegger stepped forward late in the game and Issa didn’t think he stood a chance of winning, which was probably true. So he endorsed Arnold.
Issa leads the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and considers himself the House GOP’s chief watchdog. He’s committed to accelerating a probe into US Dept. of Energy loans into greentech and alternative-fuel vehicle investments in the wake of the Fisker Automotive debacle – a company that will likely be filing for bankruptcy very soon. Issa would like to know whether Fisker should have been granted the loan, and whether the Fisker and lithium battery maker A123 Systems loans and financial failures have thrown a wrench into the gears for other, more capable companies that may have been better to grant the loans to. Fisker “is a design company, not a manufacturing company,” Issa said to Automotive News. “It was destined to fail from the beginning. The greater concern is, does this affect more viable companies, whether they received loans or not.”
Fisker Automotive only received $193 million of the $529 loan initially awarded by DOE through its Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program. Ford Motor Co. was the largest recipient, with loans worth $5.9 billion, followed by Nissan Motor Co., which received $1.4 billion. Tesla Motors Inc. drew down its $465 million of loans last year and has announced a plan to repay the funds much faster than its original commitment. But it’s been losses taken by DOE fund recipients Fisker, A123 Systems, and solar energy company Solyndra that have been the focal points of strife; Solyndra drew intensive debate and criticism following its bankruptcy after having been awarded $535 million by DOE.
In May of 2012, Issa sent a letter to then executive chairman Henrik Fisker, asking him to produce all documents related to the company’s loan application, and all of its communications with the Energy Department about the financing. Issa was suspicious that Obama administration officials were giving speedy approvals and special treatment to some companies, while many other had been waiting a long time and were not receiving responses.
Issa has taken pride in being the key watchdog tracking the Obama administration, similar to the role U.S. Rep Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) played during the George W. Bush presidency. Leading the minority party in Washington creates an environment ripe for conflict and drama, which usually delivers plentiful press coverage. He’s been very good at gaining media coverage, and his stark visual presence also gives him an edge for gaining publicity.
Issa had an interesting background. He’d been charged with auto thefts several years ago, and was able to clear his criminal record and become a big name in the car alarm business in the 1980s. He was best known for launching the famous car alarm, the Viper, which featured his own deep voice confronting would-be burglars to “please step away from the car.” That deep voice comes in handy as he sits behind the microphone during hearings, taking on the Obama administration’s efforts to promote greentech and alternative fuel vehicles.